Colombia

Cloud Forest Photo
A cloud forest of the Colombian Andes, where exists 6 percent of the world's amphibian diversity.
©WCS Colombia
National Park Staff Photo
WCS helps young conservation professionals among Colombia's government agencies, organizations, and communities carry out science-based conservation.
©R. Marques
Andean Bear Photo
Some of the world’s remaining Andean bears, also known as spectacled bears, live in Colombia's Cuaca Valley.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS

With coastlines on the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Andean mountains, and Amazon basins, Colombia’s landscapes are vast and vastly diverse. Here, where the Pacific, Amazonian, Caribbean, and Orinoquian lowland regions meet, the landscapes are a patchwork of mangroves, snow-capped peaks, grasslands, deserts, wetlands, rainforests, dry forests, cloud forests, and other habitats. While world-renowned for its richness in bird species, Colombia also has an extraordinary diversity of amphibians and mammals, as well as orchids and butterflies.

The dry, montane, and cloud forests of the Colombian Andes support an array of wildlife, including the pacarana, Andean condor, puma, golden-plumed parakeet, red howler monkey, Andean bear, mountain tapir, and neo-tropical otter. Unfortunately, habitat loss, mining, oil exploration, ecosystem fragmentation, palm oil and coca plantations, poaching, and wildlife trade are threatening Colombia’s natural heritage. Still, the country’s increasing political stability and conservation efforts offer hope that we can overcome some of these challenges.

Fast Facts

  • The country’s most diverse region is also its most highly populated, with about 70 percent of Colombians living in the Andes Mountains.
  • More than half of the amphibian species found in the Colombian Andes (6 percent of the world’s diversity) are endangered.
  • With globally significant biodiversity levels, the Central and Western cordilleras of the Colombian Andes support several species that exist nowhere else.
  • A dense human population has fragmented cloud forest habitats, with less than 5 percent of original dry forest cover or wetlands remaining in some areas.
  • Framed by the towering, snow-capped mountains of three Andean cordilleras, Colombia has two fertile and highly transformed valleys found at altitudes of about 3,000 feet.
  • Most of Colombia’s agricultural products—coffee, rice, sugar cane, soy—grow at elevations under 6,500 feet but rely on water from higher elevations, areas already under increasing pressure from an expanding population.
  • Among the country’s most endangered species, the Cauca guan, a large, fruit-eating bird, is restricted to the middle elevations of Cauca valley. Once believed to be extinct, small populations of the birds were discovered in the mid-1980s within the fragmented ecosystems of four cloud forests.

Challenges

In Colombia’s heavily populated regions, habitat fragmentation poses great threats to biodiversity. Oil exploration, large-scale forestry, and plantations (e.g. palm), and development projects such as dams and highways threaten lowland areas, while long-term deforestation and habitat segmentation degrade highland ecosystems. Meanwhile, mining projects ecologically compromise both highland and lowland habitats. There is a pressing need to constantly survey and monitor wildlife populations, such as the Cauca guans, in order to effectively plan for their management and predict the probability of their survival. It is also critical to determine how prevalent environmental threats have affected the distribution and conservation status of lesser-known species, such as the Andean bear, Wied's spotted cat, and some parrots.

WCS Responds

WCS-Colombia focuses primarily on conserving central Andean ecosystems and their wildlife, particularly in the mid-portion of the Central and western Andean cordilleras and the Cauca Valley River that flows between them. In this region, WCS conducts specific studies on landscape species, biodiversity patterns in wild areas and rural landscapes, forest dynamics, and prevalent threats. We also help train young conservation professionals and work with governmental and non-governmental organizations and local communities to implement effective conservation. Additionally, WCS provides technical assistance to conservation initiatives at the national, regional, and local levels.

Meanwhile, in central Colombia, WCS is studying spatial patterns of biodiversity and dynamics within cloud forests to understand how these rare landscapes function, what their conservation needs are, and how the forests may be restored. By recognizing and studying the contribution of rural areas to biodiversity conservation, WCS is finding common ground between the needs of people and the environment.

From the Newsroom

Rare Brown-Spider Monkey Hangs on in ColombiaJanuary 26, 2012

A discovery of brown-spider monkeys in Parque Nacional Natural Selva de Florencia offers the critically endangered species a second chance.

The People’s ConservationistsMay 29, 2007

Four conservationists working on WCS-supported projects in South America’s last wild places have earned Whitley awards for their efforts to find win-win solutions for people and wildlife.

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